Oregon is known for many things: rainy weather and micro-brew, Portlandia and drive-through coffee, beautiful coastlines and spectacular mountains, Ducks and Beavers and cheetahs.
Yes. One of the Western Hemisphere’s most successful cheetah-breeding programs is based at the Wildlife Safari wild animal park in Winston, Oregon.
It’s also home to lions and tigers and bears—oh my!—along with elephants, giraffes, hippos, zebras, wildebeests . . . and that’s just in the “Africa” section of the drive-through.
The park is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $17.99 per person ($14.99 for seniors, $11.99 for children ages 4 – 12, free 3 and under) and there are group rates (15 or more) and membership options. Admission includes two trips through the drive-through section of the park where most of the animals live. Admission to the Safari Village is free.
Part One: The Drive-Through
This is the highlight of the park, especially on a cool, clear morning when the animals are out and about. I recommend heading straight to your first drive-through as soon as you arrive.
Look for the dromedaries (camels with one hump) to the left as soon as you drive past the entry booth. If they’re not in the village giving rides, they be here. Also watch out for peacocks: they like to hang out around the parking lot. Then, as you enter the gate, you might be greeted by the “welcome ostrich.” One of the males: he’s very curious about cars and will peck at you, so be ready to roll up the windows as he approaches.
As you drive through the Africa section, you are guaranteed to see plenty of zebra and Watusi cattle. Neither are shy about cars, so watch for them crossing the road and remember that animals always have the right-of-way. You’ll also see at least two of the giraffes wandering around—sometimes strolling right past on the road. If you’ve never seen a giraffe up-close it’s an amazing sight.
Up on the hillside you should be able to spot the park’s two black rhinos—they occasionally wander down to the road, but not too often—and a herd of gemsbok with their distinctive striped faces and skinny horns.
About mid-way through the Africa section, you’ll reach the lion enclosure. Until recently, this was a “roll-up-the-windows” section, but now that the Safari has constructed a new fenced enclosure between the Village and the Drive-through, you can keep your windows down without becoming lunch. There are two pens, each holding a male and female. They nap a lot, but if you don’t see them up and moving during your first drive-through you’ll have other opportunities during the day.
After leaving the lions you’ll pass the hippo enclosure on your right. Look down in the water to see long-term resident Blippo and newcomer Pedron. The road passes on both sides of the enclosure, so if you miss them on the left you’ll have a chance to catch them later.
This is also the most crowded part of the drive. You’ll see the bulk of the zebra and Watusi cattle herds here along with wildebeests and Cape Elands and, of course, the ever-wandering giraffes. If you only slept one hour a day you’d do a lot of wandering too.
The next stop is The Americas. First you’ll drive through the Wetlands exhibit—under construction— this was the home of the park’s bald eagle, but he’s off-display this year. Look closely as you round the pond, though, and you might catch sight of a couple of the small turtles that make their home here.
Drive through the next gate and you’re in the main section of The Americas. Here you’ll see a large bison herd before entering the brown bear enclosure. Like the lions, the brown bears are now fenced. There are two groups of bears kept in separate sections: the two larger Alaskan coastal brown bears are usually in the outer enclosure surrounding the loop drive, while the three smaller, more playful, grizzlies are in the inner enclosure. Each enclosure has a pond for swimming and splashing.
After leaving the bear enclosure, you pass some more bison and probably see guanaco (wild llamas), elk, and barbary sheep as well. On cool mornings, the animals may be running; it’s an amazing sight if you’re lucky enough to see it.
As you come down the hillside on the way back to the Africa section, look for the black bear pen on the right. This is your only chance to catch sight of them.
At this point, the drive doubles back through Africa. Here you’ll get a closer look at the hippo enclosure—on the right this time—and also the elephant barn on the left. The park is presently home to two elephants: George, the larger one with a missing tusk, and Alice. The elephants also walk through the village on their way to and from the elephant shows.
The third elephant, Tiki, recently passed away. This was sad news for us. We got to meet Tiki in person almost ten years ago and always made sure to say “hi” to her each time we visited. She is memorialized in the Safari’s Camp Tiki in the Village (I’ll say more more about Camp Tiki in Part Three, Special Events).
As you pass the Elephant Barn you enter the last section of the park: Asia. Here you’ll see yak, Bactrian camels (the ones with two humps), and several species of deer. I still have trouble keeping these straight, but here goes:
The white-fallow-tail deer are the easiest to spot as they are completely white. The sika (native to Japan) are the medium-sized brown deer, and the nilgai (native to India) are the large greyish-brown deer. This is a good time to recommend the Safari Guidebook, available in the gift shop. Be sure to pick one up for your second drive-through if not your first.
Also watch for the emu and rheas: two large flightless birds who like to peck at cars as much as the ostriches do. The rheas are light grey with very short feathers on their faces and necks, while the emu are darker and fluffier. Neither fear cars and will walk right out in front of you.
The last enclosure holds the cheetahs and the tigers. As you enter, look to the left. You might just spot Ellie, a yellow lab who was raised as a companion to Sannura, one of the cheetahs. Ellie also likes to hang out at the information booth when it’s open. You should catch sight of at least a few of the cheetahs in the pens to the left, as well as “Lovers Lane,” the breeding area which is set up in such a way as to provide privacy for mating cheetahs. On the right, you’ll pass the information booth and then the tiger enclosure. Wildlife Safari is home to two Siberian tigers, Leah and Saigon. It’s hard to tell them apart unless you see them together. Saigon, the male is the larger of the two, though Leah seems to be more of a pacer. If they’re not both napping, you may catch her walking the fence.
After you leave the Cheetah and Tiger enclosure, you’ve completed your first drive-through. Park, stretch your legs, and then head into the Village. There are a lot of animals to see there too, and we’ll talk about them tomorrow in Part Two.
(Photos by Julia M. Ozab)